I’ve been putting off writing this review for awhile now.
Why is that?
Because I got scared.
“If you’re scared, get a dog”
If the Oppo HA2 is the Swiss Army knife of Amp/DACs, this thing has to be some sort of top of the line multi-tool on steroids. Or a pop up camper. It’s overwhelming how much stuff it can do. Related:Oppo HA 2 Review!
Let’s run it down:
If you’re not convinced to go out and buy it after this rundown I’ll stop writing reviews. Or eat my sock. Lol.
It can charge your phone via the smart power charging (USB) on the back right of the unit.
It can be plugged into your PC via the big blue USB cable that comes with the unit. You’re my boy blue!
It can be used as a gaming rig. Just plug the optical/toslink adapter into the SPDIF jack on the back of the unit and have yourself an afternoon delight. Related:The Best Headphones for Gaming!
It can be plugged into a receiver, preamp, studio monitor, or anything that outputs RCA. What are Studio Monitors? For this it’s got a switch towards the back for Direct mode or Preamp mode.
It can be plugged into anything that outputs SPDIF. Great for any variety of home theater type units.
It can be used with your phone via it’s 3.5mm line out on the front.
It’s got an XBass+ switch on the front and a Soundstage enhancer (which actually works beautifully). More on that later.
On the side you’ve got a power mode switch featuring Eco, Normal, and Turbo modes. This is one of it’s best features and allows for extreme versatility based on the headphone you’re using.
On the side you’ve also got a Polarity switch and a Filter featuring Bit Perfect, Minimum Phase, and Standard.
But wait, there’s more. It’s got an IEMatch switch for High Sensitivity or Ultra Sensitivity IEM’s and headphones. This comes in handy with very low Impedance/High Sensitivity Headphones. I’m thinking 32 Ohm and lower, and over 100dB/mW Sensitivity.
It’s got enough juice to power a small country. Go ahead and plug anything (and I mean anything) into this bad boy and it will drive it to listenable levels with absolute ease. More on numbers later.
The best part is how it makes your headphones sound. Clarity, dimension, detail, accuracy, spacing, timbre, etc. is all on point. This may be the only Amp/DAC you’ll ever need.
As mentioned at the start, the Black Label can do basically anything. If the HA 2 can brew you a cup of coffee, this thing will certainly make you breakfast in bed if you ask nicely enough. XD. I was going to go somewhere else with that but I resisted. Go me.
Yeah anyways, I’m certainly more than impressed with what it can do.
If you’re a gamer, it’s got you covered with the small Toslink adapter. Pretty nifty and clicks right in. Then just run an optical cable from the back into your Playstation or XBox.
Obviously you can game/listen to music via the line out on the front or the USB slot on the back. Just use that big Blue USB cable that it comes with. In all honesty I found it a bit too big and bulky. You have to kind of position it just right or it tends to pull the unit around your desk. Still, once you get the mammoth sized thing in the right place, it’s smooth sailing.
Use the slot on the back right of the unit to charge your phone.
Use this for any device that outputs SPDIF. This could be a receiver, CD Player, or anything that you’d typically find in a home theater.
On the back, use the USB slot with an OTG Cable to plug into your Android phone. If you’re using an Apple phone, this lightning to USB will work.
Front of the unit
On the front you’ve got a bass boost and 3D+ switch. Plug your headphones in with the supplied 1/4″ adapter and turn the volume knob to power it on.
I find that the XBass+ adds just the right amount of bass. It doesn’t overpower the headphone but instead provides a little more fidelity and thump. There’s a nice low rumble here that gives me a warm fuzzy feeling inside. With bass heavier headphones you won’t need it, but if you fancy a go at some extra oomph, the Black Label’s got you covered regardless.
The 3D+ switch basically improves Soundstage and my oh my what a wonderful job it does. What is Soundstage? I was shocked to discover that it actually helped to enhance the image on my HD600, giving it some added width! This was simply incredible to me considering the HD600’s image has always been very narrow.
If you want, you can use the line out to another amplifier and just use the Black Label as a DAC. For me that’s a bit counter intuitive. You can also use the line out to your phone or PC for an easy source of power.
If using Direct mode with line out, the unit stops power coming from the RCA Output.
If using Preamp mode, sound will come from anything connected to the RCA outs as well as any headphone plugged in.
One of the best features is the power mode switch on the side featuring Eco, Normal, and Turbo modes.
If you’re using High Impedance headphones (250 Ohm and up) use the Normal or Turbo mode. What’s funny is that you may not even need those modes. I’m finding the HD600 at 97dB Sensitivity and 300 Ohm Impedance will run on Eco. Normal is more than enough though. What is Headphone Impedance?
Even better is the fact that even with a headphone like the venerable AKG K240 600 Ohm, with a ridiculously low 91dB/mW Sensitivity, the Black Label will still power it without breaking a sweat.
Right now I’m listening to the wonderful Audeze LCD2 on Eco setting, @ 70 Ohm and 101dB Sensitivity. Plenty of power, as the LCD2 is pretty efficient.
This may be the most valuable DAC on the planet. Forget about checking specs ever again.
Buy all the headphones!
This switch did nothing for me. I emailed my new friend Lawrance at ifi and will update this as I get more info about the feature.
You’ve also got Bit Perfect, Minimum Phase, and Standard. I messed with this a little and could discern small differences in the sound. Will update as I get more time in deciphering changes in the signature.
This is a great feature for very High Sensitivity IEM’s and Headphones, as well as very low Impedance ones as well. With great power comes great responsibility. This feature ensures you won’t blow out your headphones or ear buds! Related:What is Sensitivity in Headphones?
Riccardo Robecchi over at Soundphile made a great point in his article:iFi micro iDSD Black Label review: black power. Because the the unit sleeps after 3 minutes of inactivity, it will start to charge. If it’s plugged into a phone or something similar when this happens and you walk away, you could end up with a dead phone and a charged DAC. Definitely something to be aware of.
He also mentioned something that I’ve noticed as well: Whenever the unit wakes up you may hear a pop sound which doesn’t really bother me but I suppose it would if the volume was left on very loud.
Other than that, battery life is very good and I’ve found it keeps a charge almost indefinitely. I’ve never had to consciously make an effort to charge it. It’s always ready to go!
That was intimidating to say the least. Did I leave anything out? I sure hope not!
FEATURES SCORE: A++
Wait, the review isn’t over? Lol, not even CLOSE bud. let’s move on to build..
The iFi micro iDSD Black Label takes form in a black (wow, what a surprise) trapezoidal prism that’s made of aluminum. This material lends it a solid feel, and the device seems well-made overall. The orange accents complement its pure black body really well — further adding some much-appreciated premium appeal into the package. From a practical standpoint, you’re able to read the small text fairly easily which is important considering how much this puppy is capable of.
It honestly seems like iFi didn’t hold back in investing time into its design. But to be frank, for a DAC that costs as much as it does, there’s no reason to expect anything less.
All of the knobs and switches feel durable and solid, and the various input jacks are also very rugged.
The unit itself is pretty heavy for a portable DAC, but is still light enough for transport. I think ifi did a fantastic job here. Related:What is a USB DAC?
Efficiency is an understatement with the Black Label.
As promised, let’s take a look at the power output into various Impedance loads:
In Turbo Mode:
1,560 mW @ 64 OhmYGOD
166 mW @ 600 Ohm
Food for thought: The K240 600 Ohm needs roughly 80mW to perform optimally. The Black Label provides more than enough for even the most demanding headphones.
In Normal Mode:
950 mW @ 32 Ohm
100 mW @ 300 Ohm
In Eco Mode:
250 mW @ 16 Ohm
Food for Thought: The HD600’s at 300 Ohm Impedance and 97dB Sensitivity only require 20mW from an amp. Normal mode on the Black Label provides 100 into this same Impedance load. This is why even Eco works with the 600’s!
Not only is it more powerful than explosive diarrhea, but it’s also got a low output impedance. This ensures consistent output across all types of headphones and spec ranges. What is Output Impedance?
Being close competitors, I just may recommend this over the Mojo because of everything it can do.
Aside from that, the Black Label makes your headphones sound incredible. Instrument Timbre, spacing, dynamics, clarity, and detail all emerge to form pure musical bliss in most circumstances. What is Timbre?
Do be aware that the amp will reveal bad source files with eyebrow raising precision. A song could sound amazing or awful depending on what you’re listening to at any given moment. I would highly recommend trying out Tidal. They give you 3 free months to start. Once you begin the trial period there’s no going back. I definitely think it’s worth the investment given you’re getting the absolute best tracks available.
For instance: I was listening to a lossless version of U2’s “Still haven’t found what I’m looking for” earlier today with the Philips SHP9500 + Black Label on Eco. It was so incredible sounding that it made me bawl my eyes out. No joke. I could hear the subtlest of details going on but it didn’t feel like a chore to listen. There’s a moment in the song where you can hear Bono let out some sort of sound in the midst of all the instrumentation and chaos of the song. We’ve all heard this song a thousand times and I’ve never once caught it. It was astonishing.
The transparency and neutrality that this amp provides is near second to none.
While I don’t need the Soundstage enhancement feature, I find myself using it specifically with genres like Jazz + The HD600. It makes the 600’s narrow image really open up and turns them into a sort of Jazz/Classical powerhouse.
Okay maybe not that good but I never thought Soundstage would open up on these headphones. It’s simply remarkable and becomes an invaluable feature to have with other headphones as well.
There are a couple of very minor things that I didn’t like about it; namely the bulky blue cable and the fact that it takes a second for music to play. This basically means that you’ll miss the first bit of whatever song is on which is kind of annoying. This same issue is present in the Oppo HA 2 and really steams my beans. Lol.
Also, in Tidal it was acting squirrely. The music periodically just cuts out with no explanation and takes a reboot of the program to get it fired up again. I’ve tested other Amps like the Oppo HA2 and FiiO Q1 and didn’t have the same issue. This leads me to believe it’s the Black Label acting a fool. Not entirely sure why but I do have to dock a few points for it.
Other than that, the Black Label is a perfect Amp/DAC as far as sound, build, ergonomics, features, and accessories. The Tidal issue is pretty concerning, so I’ll give it 92/100 today.
I will update this article as new information comes to light. For now:
Stu is determined to provide the truth about all things audio, and strives to deliver excellent content to you the reader! In his spare time, he likes to fish, paint, play guitar, attend church, take photos, record videos, graphic design, and more. His attention to detail and perfectionist attitude are what allow him to excel, but it can be both a blessing and a hindrance at times.